More than two decades ago –– 26 years to be exact –– Rita Forrester created a national stir when she was announced winner of the Pic-O-De-Crop competition, beating out her composer and fellow calypsonian John King by .2 of a percentage point. The date was July 29, 1988; and, as the results became known, there was a hue and cry over the judges’ decision.
Singing Can’t Party and Woman Respect Yourself, the Guyanese-born Queen Rita, who until this day is still the only female to capture the highly sought after crown, scored 71.1 to inch ahead of King with 70.9 points.
More than two and a half decades later, the memories of the much talked about contest would come flooding back, as Rita joined a regal cast of former calypso monarchs on Friday, July 25, for the 40th Anniversary Monarchs In Concert show at the National Stadium.
“It’s good to be back [on stage]. It brought back a lot of memories,” said the still sweet-sounding Queen Rita, following her very appreciative performance.
“The feeling of being the only woman so far to win this title . . . honestly, it’s hard to describe. I mean, yes, it’s a good achievement, but I really don’t look at it that deep. People might say you’re the first queen blah blah blah, but that’s it. I won a competition; that’s it.
“I’m not the kind of person that [would] relish in this kinda thing or that would tell people that ‘I am the calypso queen of Barbados, yuh know?’. I’m not that kinda person. If my [family] or my friends, if we are out and they say, ‘Oh she is . . . I tell them, ‘I doan like to really talk about it’, or stuff like that. It is what it is,” she told Barbados TODAY, while making it clear that she had no plans of getting back into the arena.
“Never! Never! Not me! This is for young people now. I’m not really interested in this kinda thing. I’ve been there, done that!” Rita declared.
“Likewise, I have no advice to give for those looking to get involved in it either. They are professionals and they know what they have to do; they know what works for them; and that’s it.”
So what has Rita been up to these past 26 years? In 1991, she left Barbados and headed to New York, where she studied to be a nursing assistant and a medical technician.
“I’ve just been working, because you can’t be in New York and not work. You have to do something, and that’s what I did.
“Right now I’m retired. I worked hard all my life. When I was in Barbados I used to do business with the hotels, bringing in shrimp [and] pineapples. Then I started to travel to New York and Curacao bringing in clothes. I was always a businesswoman.”
As for her entry into calypso, she said: “I got into the calypso thing because I always liked to sing, and I always loved calypso. I love it. Not because of the money. I loved calypso from the time I was a little girl.”
At the time, Rita looked up to some of the top performers in the industry, including Trinidadians Mighty Sparrow, Singing Francine and Calypso Rose.
“I’ve always wanted to sing calypso, because I started singing ballads with a band when I was 17 years old in Guyana. So when I came to Barbados in 1976, I got a recording contract with WIRL –– West Indies Records Limited –– and I used to sing with this band the Four Friends.”
After that she decided to join a calypso tent.
Asked to comment on what many regard as the declining state of social commentary, Queen Rita pointed out that “after twenty-something years I can still come back and sing [Can’t Party]”, lamenting that “lots of the calypso now is only for now”.
“There is nothing that you can play the next five years and listen to . . . because [they] are just dance up blah, blah, blah . . . . There is nothing that you could just say you [are] cooking or doing something else, and you could do that and listen to lyrics with a good beat also.”